people_venezuela
On March 4, in a simple resolution, an overwhelming majority in the United States House of Representatives agreed to support the people of Venezuela as they protest peacefully for democratic change and call for an end to the escalating violence in the South American country.

The resolution comes on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the passing of Hugo Chavez, who succumbed to cancer after 14 years as the president of Venezuela. Nicolas Maduro took over leadership and has carried on the Chavez legacy with state-controlled economic policies that are now under criticism by anti-government demonstrations. At least 18 people have been killed since the protests began in early February.

The buildup towards the recent student-led protests came from hyperinflation, a shortage of basics, spiraling murder rates and a general decline in living standards. Presently, Venezuelans cannot get basics such as toilet paper, rice, coffee and corn flour. Last year, almost 25,000 homicides took place in the country. Protesters claim that the government is corrupt, undemocratic and is ruining the economy.

On February 12, Venezuela’s National Youth Day, students led a peaceful anti-government protest. The Venezuelan military responded with gas bombs and guns to control the crowds. Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, was arrested later in the month and is currently being held in a military prison. Amnesty International states that the arrest of Lopez is a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country.

The Venezuelan government has implemented a number of policies in reaction to the protests. It declared three consular officers at the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela personae non gratae, or un-welcomed, adding to eight other American officials who were expelled in 2013. The Venezuelan government has also taken control of television, radio and the internet. It blocked online images of the marchers, shut down Twitter, has taken Colombian news channel NTN 24 off the air and threatens to expel CNN.

The House Representatives agreed that the U.S. Government should support the free and peaceful exercise of representative democracy in Venezuela, condemning violence and intimidation against the country’s political opposition, and calling for dialogue between all political actors in the country.

The House resolution just passed urges the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of Venezuela and to actively encourage a process of dialogue between the government of Venezuela and the political opposition to end the violence there. It also believes that the Organization of American States should respond to the erosion of democratic norms and institutions in member states.

Additionally, it deems that the U.S. Department of State should work in concert with other countries in the Americas to take meaningful steps to ensure that basic fundamental freedoms in Venezuela are in accordance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Lastly, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanded that the Venezuelan Government adopt measures which guarantee the rights to life such as humane treatment, security, political rights, the right of assembly, and the rights of freedom of association and freedom of expression.

– Maria Caluag

Sources: GovTrak, BBC, Amnesty International
Photo: Los Angeles Times

chavismo_venezuela
Recent protests in Venezuela have caught the attention of the entire world. Demonstrators are protesting for a myriad of different reasons, from extreme rates of inflation, to rising crime and murder rates, to allegations of corruption. Despite these different reasons, one thing remains constant: the majority of protestors are demonstrating against the government ruled by Nicolás Maduro, the successor to the late charismatic firebrand Hugo Chavez.

But what is Chavismo? What are the origins of this political movement that has swept up the Venezuelan state and has until recently, been extremely popular?

Chavismo has its origins in the beginnings of Chavez’s political career. In 1997, the Fifth Republic Movement was founded to support Chavez in the 1998 presidential elections. The Movement was named the fifth republic because at the time, Venezuela was in its fourth republic and the movement intended to renew the state of Venezuela on revolutionary policies.

A key belief of Chavismo is that the state should support social welfare programs for its citizens. For instance, Chavez often used populist rhetoric to galvanize the lower classes and the disenfranchised with promises to make their lives better. Revenue from Venezuela’s significant oil reserves were put into programs designed to reduce poverty, improve education, and establish social justice and social welfare within Venezuela.

 Some tenets of Chavismo include nationalization of industries, and a strongly anti-neoliberal stance on economic issues with an emphasis on participatory democracy. Systems of “Bolivarian missions” or misiones bolivarianas exist in order to bypass the red tape that often comes with bureaucracy and where citizens can gather to express their opinions directly and have their voices heard.

Not surprisingly for a revolutionary political movement, Chavismo strongly identifies with the historic figure of Símon Bolívar, the 19th century liberator of Latin America from Spanish colonialism. This idea is carried on today with Chavismo attempting to rally countries around the region to oppose what is seen as imperialist US policies that put capitalistic gain ahead of basic human rights.

The idea of Chavismo works well theoretically, as most populist ideologies do. But the reality of the situation is that Venezuelans are unhappy with the way the country is being governed and the direction the current brand of Chavismo led by Maduro is taking them.

Instead of listening to the demands of the people, Maduro decided to take the thuggish route and try to quell the current protests by deploying hundreds of soldiers and ordering fighter jets to make low passes over the capital of Caracas.

Maduro’s responses to the protests give full view to his insecurity. In order to maintain a tight grip on the country, he has expelled three US diplomats from the country and detained 45 people. Maduro has also attempted to regulate media coverage of the protests and threatened to revoke press credentials for CNN reporters.

Unless he listens to and responds to the needs of the people, he will be put in an increasingly insecure position within his United Socialist Party. While an overthrow of Maduro’s government and an opposition-installed government in unlikely, what is possible is Maduro being forced to step down in favor of his Vice-President, Jorge Arreaza.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: The New York Times, The Huffington Post
Photo: Jorge Amin

Protests in Venezuela
Months of goods shortages, allegations of corruption, a sky-high inflation rate of 56.2 percent and rising crime have left thousands of Venezuelans dissatisfied with the government of Nicolás Maduro, the successor of the late Hugo Chávez of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, (PSUV.) This dissatisfaction culminated in violent protests in Venezuela against the Maduro administration that took place in many large cities across Venezuela, including the cities of Maracaibo and Caracas, the capital.

On Thursday, three protesters were killed and dozens more were injured in clashes between the disgruntled and disaffected youth and the police and troops from the National Guard. Around 1,000 protesters lit bonfires and blockaded the streets in an effort to draw attention to their demands. It is relatively unclear what the protesters want, however. Some are calling for Maduro to resign; others simply want an end to the uptick in the crime rate.

In an effort to quell the protests, on Saturday Maduro called for a “ban” on further protests and prohibited media coverage of the protests. After promoting a position of “peace and tolerance,” Maduro denounced the protesters as “fascists” who sought to overthrow the government. He further attempted to maintain his grasp on his power by suggesting that “the people are in power.”

One leader of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez tweeted support for non-violent protests, and addressed Maduro in a message in which he called the president “a coward…who cannot make me or my family submit to you.”

Proponents of the peaceful protests in Venezuela have stated that government-sponsored motorcycle gangs known as colectivos seek to incite further violence in order to thwart the legitimacy of the movement. Since Wednesday, 99 people have been arrested and released, with 13 remaining in jail.

Maduro has found it increasingly difficult to continue riding the wave of the Chavista movement following the death of Hugo Chávez in March of last year. After narrowly winning a presidential election in April 2013 that the center-right opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, denounced as fraudulent, Maduro has struggled to appear as a legitimate successor to the charismatic Chávez. As such, he has blamed the opposition movement for the country’s economic woes, which includes a high inflation rate and a shortage of basic goods such as toilet paper.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Reuters, The Daily Beast, Reuters, AlJazeera, BBC
Photo: Tempo

Woman_Venezuelan_Protests_
Venezuelans took to the streets to protest against the successor government of the late Hugo Chavez led by President Nicolas Maduro. The oil-rich Bolivarian Republic, many citizens feel, is failing to provide them with an adequate living standard. Inflation of the Venezuelan bolívar is going up at an astronomical rate, the highest in Latin America at 56 percent. Basic commodities as well as absolute necessities are scarce and the murder rates are getting higher.

Struggling with capital flight—a consequence of the currency’s devaluation—and the enormous loss of its foreign reserves, authorities have done little to try to salvage the bolívar.  The poor state of the Venezuelan economy has an acute impact on the country’s political climate. Not only have the left-wing party’s populist policies deeply polarized the society. This deep polarization in the society—already plagued with a gargantuan disparity gap—is manifesting itself on the streets of Caracas as both supporters and opponents of the current government are staging rival rallies.

With already four casualties at the hands of the authorities, the violent Venezuelan protests on the streets of Caracas are a direct result of years of accumulated policy mistakes and economic woes that Venezuelans have endured. Shortages of the most basic necessities such as toilet paper, rice, coffee and corn flour, the lastest of which is a crucial ingredient in the Venezuelan daily diet.

Years of over-reliance on imports, price controls, unsustainable petroleum money coupled with the lack of cash in general and the government’s obstinacy to not deliver United States dollars to importers have made many common and vital items to be absent from Venezuelan markets. Many industries that used to provide these basic resources for the country have also all been greatly diminished.

However, many Venezuelans still support their government. The populist regime created—arguably with the oil revenue—during Hugo Chavez’s administration has seen the power of the elite substantially curbed and the state’s roles exponentially expanded. The policies that follow the government’s egalitarian and anti-imperial discourse (which had caused an abrasive verbal duel between the King of Spain and the late Hugo Chavez) have generated a short-term but unsustainable well-being for the Venezuelan people.

However, the aforementioned price control, decreed wage raises, the notorious nationalization of foreign capitals (a measure taken by many Latin American governments of the same political camp as Venezuela,) the reduction of interest rate as well as the inorganic credit manipulation all contribute to the present hardship facing the people of Venezuela. However, it is because of these policies that so many people, especially those from the poorer sectors of the society, are still in favor of the government.

Thus, the student-led Venezuelan protests and the deadly clashes in Caracas is an archetypal manifestation of the political paradigm that is appearing across the developing world. It is a paradigm that presents a discourse that puts into question the very principles of democracy.

In places where there is wide disparity in terms of material development and education, should good governance take precedence over popular support? Is democracy a panacea for all malaises, a one size fits all model to which every society should aspire? These are not simply rhetorical questions; they are vexing dilemmas that will necessitate answers as Western hegemony yields.

– Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: La Tercera, Rumbo, The Guardian, Financial Times, Bloomberg
Photo:
Washington Post

unrest_in_ukraine
Gunshots. Rifles. Rocks. Molotov Cocktails. The state of political unrest in Ukraine continues unabated.

Protestors have long since expressed discontent with President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime since economically tying Ukraine to Russia in lieu of the European Union.

Closer ties to the European Union would have boosted the Ukrainian economy as well as being welcomed into the E.U. fold. On the other hand, Russia threatened economic sanctions and a rise in oil prices. In the end, Yanukovych chose the former head of the Soviet state. As a result, Ukranians took to the streets in protest. For the past three months, protesters and Kiev police forces have clashed in the streets of Independence Square.

The narrative turned ever darker once Yanukovych passed the anti-protest law, barring demonstrations unless a permit is obtained from local police.

The law was eventually repealed, but the damage was done. Discontent spiraled further when opposing forces attempted to draw power from the presidency towards the parliament.

The opposition forces, among them led by the Ukranian Democratic Alliance for Reforms party, then wanted tangible reforms that would come in the form of constitutional amendments. Yanukovych, with pressure mounting on his presidency, offered opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the post of prime minister as well as the power to dismiss the parliament.

These concessions, however, proved futile. Violence erupted on February 18, with 28 individual deaths as a result. A truce soon followed, but brutality reignited on two days later; that day’s conflicts yielded at least 100 deaths.

An emergency triage focalized at the Hotel Ukraine where numerous wounded were taken. The Ukranian military has yet to take action, but tensions are high. Foreign leaders have reacted by proposing sanctions. The E.U. has proposed freezing the assets of key Ukranians, around 20 involved.

Since the onset of the drama, Ukraine has been at the crossroads of Western powers and the eastern dominating Russia. The following steps rests on Yanukovych, but it appears the president is even losing influence in parliament.

Yanukovych’s party, Party of Regions, even sided with those voting against the president in a recent ruling for anti-terrorist measures. Regardless of the outcome, human lives have been split. Whether more violence is to come remains to be seen.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: CNN, The Globe and Mail, CNN, Kyiv Post
Photo: BBC

human_rights_abuses_sri_lanka
After 25 years, the civil war that plagued Sri Lanka and claimed thousands of lives is finally finished. The war, between the Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tigers separatist group, is estimated to have killed over 40,000 people in its final months.

The long war was between the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE,) or simply the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE desired an independent state for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

The Tamils claim to have been victimized by the Sinhalese majority once the country became fully independent in 1948.

But, just because the war is finished, does not mean its opponents are any less quiet. In fact, many human rights groups are accusing the Sri Lankan government of destroying mass burial sites in order to cover its fingerprints on various human rights abuses.

Australia’s Public Interest Advocacy Center detailed an in-depth report chronicling the various abuses perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. The Tamil Tigers have been accused of using civilians as human shields and recruiting child soldiers. While these violations are heinous, the report lays the majority of the blame at the feet of the Sri Lanka government forces.

A United Nations report shows the majority of those 40,000 killed in the war’s final months can mostly be attributed to government action.

The team of investigators highlight the years 2008 and 2009, where the Sri Lankan government is accused of mass civilian bombardment. For example, in 2009, civilians were blocked by rebel fighters from leaving the war zone; the government shelled the entire area.

U.N. satellite images show the area the government shelled was occupied by up to 50,000 noncombatants. The government forces are also accused of purposefully targeting hospitals as well as blocking food and medicine to civilians and miscounting the number of civilians located in the war zone.

The abuses have been noted by the United States Government, resulting in intensified relations between the two countries. Recently, the U.S. has floated the idea of a third U.N. resolution against Sri Lanka. It responded by denying a visa request for a State Department official.

The government remains obstinate in the face of international pressure. Its President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that it would be a “great crime” to accuse the government of war crimes. He went as far as to say that those bringing these allegations against the Sri Lankan government shows they are “opposed to peace.”

It is uncertain where these U.N. resolutions will lead or if they will be effective at all in finding justice for the many thousands that were needlessly slaughtered by their own government.

– Zack Lindberg

Sources: Al Jazeera, CFR, ABC News
Photo: The Telegraph

Mahatma_Gandhi_Human_Rights_India_Apartheid
An oft heard phrase, some cynics go as far as to call the title of this piece, which is also a famous quote, corny, utopian  or unrealistic. Yet the individual who said it would be defined by the antithesis of the spirit behind those words. As it stands, Mahatma Ghandi is remembered as the father of a nation, much like the way that we refer to our founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson, Benajmin Franklin and James Madison to name a few.

Gandhi is certainly one of those historic figures of the past that a great many people have at least heard of. Especially concerning his bravery and courage to stand up to an empire, beginning just with himself. His choices and principles inspired a people to rise up against authority. Few have truly come to understand how, and maybe even more importantly, why he choose to do what he did.

Mahatma Gandhi is, for the most part, unanimously regarded as the leader and motivational spearhead of the Indian Independence Movement that overthrew the British empire. Almost exclusively using his rights of civil disobedience, always grounded in non violence, he managed to topple one of the largest and most sophisticated military conquerors in history.

Born on October 2, 1869, to a prominent father in the local empirical government, and to a mother whom was the fourth wife of the former. At the age of 14, as was customary, he wed by an arranged marriage, and by 15 had his first child that died soon after birth.

In his early adulthood he moved to South Africa for a job prospect. What he experienced, through the Apartheid segregation system, profoundly affected him. Soon he began learning civil disobedience tactics, and became a social activist. In 1915 he returned to India, equipped with the knowledge and skills he would employ and later became revered for.

It was not long before Gandhi became deeply involved with the independence movement. Through his steadfast persistence in following the Sacred Male and Sacred Female behaviors, he became the figurehead and emotional leader of the campaign.

The Salt March is one of his hall mark actions, when he lead a walk through rural India, encouraging civil disobedience and non-compliance to the British Empire imposed salt tax. Though he was arrested many times during the action, it is considered a pivotal point in his rise to prominence amongst the Indian people.

Babo as the Indian people affectionately call him, achieved one of his major goals on August 15, 1947. That is to say, on this day, India became independent from the ruling British empire.

On January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.

His legacy of forgiveness, non-violence in the face of overwhelming odds and his persistence have left a deep impression of the conscience of the world. We end this piece as we started. The brevity and truth behind his words cannot be improved upon.

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
– Mahatma Ghandi

Tyler Shafsky

Sources: Times of India, MensXP, PBS
Photo: Daily Photostream

tahrir_square_egypt_protests
During a 2011 revolution in Egypt, filmmaker Jehane Noujaim set out to document the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Armed with cameras, the people of Egypt took to the streets in protest.

The documentary follows six protesters that meet Noujaim in the Tahrir Square tent city. The main characters are Khalid Abdalla, the British-Egyptian star of “The Kite Runner,” Magdy Ashour (a hesitant Muslim Brotherhood member,) Ahmed Hassan (the star activist,) Ramy Essam (the singer-songwriter of the revolution,) Aida El Kashef (a young filmmaker) and Ragia Omran (a human rights lawyer.)

The group sets out to capture the injustices of the regime and the following military dictatorship. The film is wrought with brutal scenes of torture and police brutality.

Magdy is tortured, Ahmed is shot and many of their friends are killed. Originally, the film ended with the overthrow of Mubarak’s regime and military rule, but as discontent with the election brought people back into the square, Noujaim returned to Egypt to continue shooting.

After the overthrow of the regime, Muslim Brothers, secularists, leftists and Coptic Christians, who once joined hands on the front lines, turned on each other.

Magdy is left conflicted, as he finds his organization firing upon his friends from the square. Discontent with President Mohamed Morsi’s policies, the people of Egypt took to the streets in the largest public demonstration on record—20 million people.

The film ends with Mori stepping down. People seem hopeful for the future of Egypt. They know the people of Egypt are a powerful force, capable of taking down dictators and unjust regimes. However, no clear leadership has emerged that unites the many sectors of Egypt’s population.  It is unclear how the Egyptian Revolution will end.

Noujaim’s film is a standout for best documentary of 2014. It is powerful, moving and gives a face to the headlines coming out of Egypt.

– Stephanie Lamm

Sources: The Square Film, IMDB
Photo: Ramesh Srinivasan

Chile_Education_reform_protests
The nation of Chile underwent significant change during the 1970s. At the time, General Augusto Pinochet established a military coup d’état (overthrow of the state) aimed at dismantling the Salvador Allende regime. By means of violence, warfare and eradicating opposition, Pinochet was able to come to power and eventually appoint himself as the President of Chile in 1974. Pinochet was a free market fundamentalist policy permeated throughout much of Chilean society.

In 1981, Pinochet privatized the educational system of Chile by slashing government support for public schools. Fearing that government funded schools were inciting social activism and communist ideals, schools became private under the contemporary military regime. Because of Pinochet’s private education policy, the educational system of Chile suffered greatly. Schools became for-profit institutions with extremely high tuition costs that people were unable to afford. Those who were able to afford private education were often forced to paying off years of debt.

The education policies stemming back to Pinochet’s authoritative rule are still largely in effect today, which has recently sparked a significant amount of civil unrest. Preceding the Chilean elections in November of 2013, tens of thousands of students took to the streets of Santiago to voice their protest against the current education system. Ultimately, about 80,000 people took part in the protest to call for progressive education reform in Chile that would make it both affordable and universal.

Popular polls indicate that the demands of the students protesting are supported by roughly 85% of Chileans and the current administration has certainly taken notice. Although they have been criticized for not making any considerable strides in education reform, former Head of State Michelle Bachelet stated that she would make college education free within six years. Many continue to be skeptical, but hope that Bachelet will follow through with her promises of education reform in Chile.

In December of 2013, Michelle Bachelet won the election to solidify her second term as the President of Chile and exclaimed in her victory speech that she would work to improve education and establish equality through her policies. As a nation with poor framework that perpetuates economic discrimination in education, Bachelet will have to address the pressing issues presented by the thousands of students protesting. On an international scale, nations are moving towards establishing systems that allow for affordable and universal education—and with Chile lagging far behind, the people hope to see significant changes made.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: CNN, BBC, Global Post, Merco Press
Photo: SuleKha

violence_protests_ukraine
Since November, Ukraine has been rocked by intense public protests over the government’s apparent rejection of the West in favor of closer ties to neighboring Russia. The protests have taken a violent turn as many demonstrators clashed with riot police over new anti-protest legislation that was recently passed this week.

The new legislation aims to quell the public’s right to protest against government officials. The specifics of the law ban the placement of tents, stages and loud speakers in public spaces.

The law also puts in place hefty jail sentences for those deemed to have played a part in “mass disorder.” Other points in the law state that wearing face masks or helmets is prohibited, threatening violators with long sentences.

Probably the law’s most egregious violation pertains to journalist’s ability to report on government officials. Any criticism of officials by the media is deemed illegal under the new legislation.

Tensions boiled over on Sunday as protesters resorted to violence against police forces. Demonstrators beat officers with sticks and attempted to turn over a bus blocking access to parliament. Fireworks and smoke bombs hurled through the air, injuring many.

A total of thirty police officers were injured during the protests. Later that night, police fired upon protesters with large water cannons in an attempt to disperse them.

A central figure in the middle of the public outrage over recent anti-western moves by the government is former professional boxer Vitaly Klitschko. He has made repeated calls for protests to remain peaceful despite the government overreach.

Recently, Klitschko was joined by his fiancé, American actress Hayden Panettiere, in a show of solidarity with the protesters.

Despite his efforts, Klistchko’s repeated calls for restraint fell on deaf ears, as tensions proved too much for many involved in the protests.

The country’s recent pivot away from a proposed joint economic partnership with the European Union toward Russia leads many to see Russia’s influence in the new anti-protest legislation. Heather McGill of Amnesty International reports the new law is almost an exact copy of existing Russian legislation that dealt a severe blow to the civil society in Russia.

The new economic partnership with Russia aims to reverse the decline of trade among the respective nations. Under the new deal, Russia will buy up $15 billion of Ukraine debt and cut natural gas prices.

The new prices will be slashed to $268.50 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas from $400.

The proposed partnership will reach across many economic sectors including industry, agriculture, defense, construction and transport.

This new partnership has created a split among the citizenry throughout Ukraine. The eastern section of the country desires increased relations with Russia, while the West favors closer ties with the E.U.

As Ukraine moves closer to Russia, many fear the nation will emulate the authoritarian tactics associated with the Russian government. The brazen passage of anti-protest legislation with complete disregard for the public’s disapproval is a clear sign Ukraine is moving in that direction.

– Zack Lindberg

Sources: CNN, Amnesty International, Reuters
Photo: TPM